Dec 7, 2005

obsindx.jpg (12344 bytes)

Teams of men and horses laid the roadbed.

Douglas Taxi met and delivered passengers at the Interurban station
in front of the Butler Hotel

The Saugatuck trestle was
an engineering feat.

Big Pavilion was a popular
Interurban stop.


As the end of summer approached in 1899, the Village of Saugatuck buzzed with exciting news—the Interurban Railway was coming to town. The brand new railway, The Holland & Lake Michigan RR Company, began passenger service within Holland in July 1898;. and also had plans to extend the rail service to Macatawa and Saugatuck.

Rail lines were laid out to these two destinations, and an official opening day for Saugatuck was set for Saturday August 19, 1899. Saugatuck residents were so excited about having an interurban train service that they designated August 19 as “Train Day.”

Celebration for “Train Day” included noted speakers in the morning, exciting races in the afternoon, “Cannonading from Sunrise to Sunset” and a “grand display of fireworks” in the evening along with a naval display on Kalamazoo Lake.

The Lake Shore Commercial newspaper (now the Commercial Record) reported that there would be a “Balloon ascension and parachute drop by Prof. Williams of Sturgis, Michigan at 4:00 o’clock. It was estimated that from 6,000 to 10,000 people witnessed a very pretty ascension and drop. The aeronaut came down in a field just east of town.”

“Train Day” was a huge success along with new passenger service on the now active Interurban. The electric trolleys provided a great need in a “horse and buggy” age when automobiles were just emerging. Most of the summer visitors arrived by steamships that docked at Saugatuck and Holland. Passengers debarking in Holland needed a horse-drawn taxi to reach their destination. Workers, shoppers, and tourists could now be comfortably whisked to their destinations for a 5 cents fare. The Interurban also added freight service for people to ship goods to and from cities.

The case of the Bamboozled Beer. The Douglas Record in June 1900 reported: “A local minor arranged to have a Holland liquor dealer deliver a keg of beer on the streetcar to Saugatuck. The conductor delivered the beer to the consigned party. The Prosecuting Attorney had a warrant issued for the arrest of the conductor on the charge of selling and giving away intoxicating liquor to a minor.”

The Commercial Record in 1916 reports: “Labor Day marked the close of the summer season in Saugatuck and a fair sized crowd was over from Chicago for the day, a good many of whom were prevented by the storm from getting to the boat and had to stay till the next day as the cars (Interurban) were put out of business by the storm. Every hotel in Saugatuck was full and in many cases, several people had to occupy one room.”

Meanwhile, the visionary Henry Ford in Detroit saw what America needed—affordable transportation--and started churning out Model T Fords that would challenge the nation’s Interurban Railways. By the year 1916, there were 170,000 autos on Michigan roads. And with trucks taking away the railway’s profitable freight business, the Interurban was doomed to fail. The end came on Monday November 15, 1926 when the trolleys made their last run.

Credit should be given to the founders of this railway system for their vision, engineering skills, and hard work that provided transportation of passengers and goods for over 25 years. The clang, clang of the trolleys may be gone, but the memories live on.    by Rob Carey

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